Margot & the nuclear so and so’s third album Buzzard is primal and truculent, going straight for the vitals. Opener “Birds” finds the band going to places they haven’t before – lovely, languid verses progressing into fuzzed out, howling choruses throughout the song’s twists and turns – while still holding to the guitar-based ethos on which the album is founded. “Lunatic, lunatic, lunatic” may be familiar sonic territory for singer/guitarist Richard Edwards, but the (very) dark humor that slowly unveils is something that he has only flirted with (innocently) in the past. “New York City Hotel Blues” and “Claws Off” distill Margot’s music to its essence: melody-driven pop music with teeth, set adrift against Edwards’ surreal and emotional, if slightly twisted lyrical tendencies. Similarly, “I Do” refines the evocative chamber-pop for which the band is known to its most heart-rending fundamentals, supported by simply Richards’ plaintive voice and an acoustic guitar.
And there is, of course, an intriguing path that led Margot towards this evolution in sound, which contrasts the lively optimism of 2008’s Animal! (and/or Not Animal, simultaneously released after contention with former label Epic). Buzzard was recorded over one freezing month last winter in an abandoned movie theater in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood. Edwards had taken up residence there after leaving his hometown of Indianapolis, when the house where he and the previous seven members of the band had lived was damaged in a fire last summer. Once settled, he began writing a collection of songs loosely inspired by the 8mm ‘nudie cutie’ films unearthed in the theater’s basement, and the youthful reaction of mixed emotions that the films evoked.
After six months of writing, longtime Margot members Tyler Watkins and Erik Kang joined Edwards in Chicago and the three began to dig into the new material. A cast of local musicians, who had begun to come to the theater to watch weekly screenings of Kamikaze Hearts, soon also joined them. It was against this grainy backdrop that Edwards and Co. recorded the songs with the help of these new friends, including drummer/producer Brian Deck, Tim Rutili (Califone, Red Red Meat), Joe Adamik, Cameron McGill, Katie Todd and Ronnie Kwasman.
Theater seating was cleared away to accommodate the instruments, while a makeshift control room was assembled in the projection perch. As the days went by, a dusky, Bacchic energy started to fill the theater and Buzzard began to take form. Recording took place between the hours of 10pm and 5am, and no artificial light was allowed (as such, three musicians and engineer Neil Strauch broke bones from tripping over cables). Accidents aside, the willful band – live and manic, newly freed from any past constraints – growled their way through the songs and infused them with a raw, forceful energy that Margot had only hinted at in their past recordings. The result is the band’s most immediate studio recording: bigger and louder than ever before, finally capturing Margot’s powerful, captivating live show and defiantly Midwestern sound.